You Call This a Blizzard?
by Pat Carbonell
Okay, I've had enough of being serious and depressing. Probably hasn't been any more fun for you folks than it has for me. The "Mom" should be coming home this week, life's getting back to normal...
So, what happens in Vermont when we get socked by 30" of snow in 24 hours? You find out who the truly outstanding humans are! We got hit with a baby blizzard on Valentine's Day (what a GREAT excuse to spend the day in bed with your nearest and dearest!). I say "baby" blizzard, because I grew up in this state and remember snow storms that dumped that much as being a regular part of winter - pre-global warming, that is.
Just to give you a hint of what old-style Vermont winters were like, these statistics say it all: the suicide rate goes up in February, and the birth rate goes up in September. I'm guessing this year there's going to be some real busy delivery rooms around, oh, October-November.
We lived in a 150 year-old farmhouse in Rochester when I was a kid. Out front we had a 6" square granite hitching post. One winter the snowstorms came one right after the other, and they were too much for our neighbor to plow with his farm tractor, so we had to get a bulldozer in to clear the yard. The snow was so deep he didn't see the hitching post, and he was pushing so much of it he never felt it when he ran into it and snapped it off at the ground. We thought something looked a little odd when he was done, but we didn't find the post until spring thaw - 25' from where is started. That was a great winter! The snow pile was so high I could climb it and climb right into the huge oak tree in our front yard.
Our house was in a small valley, with the White River running at the base of the mountains on the other side. The river froze every winter, and sometimes the ice got real thick between the thaws - oh, yeah, there were usually a couple of thaws during the winter, and then everything froze back up again. One February thaw the ice was about 2' thick on the river, and we got hit with not only warm weather, but rain. The ice broke up and jammed at the bend at the end of our valley, so the river flooded the fields across the highway from our house. When the water went down, it left all these baby ice floes all over the fields - chunks of ice 2-3' thick and about that size around. It was awesome.
Of course, sometimes it was downright scary. 80 years ago, the ice jams on the White River caused such high flooding in another valley that it wiped out most of the village of Gaysville - check out the before and after pics. When you've got a river at full flood loaded with huge chunks of ice, wood frame houses tend to shatter like matchsticks. Always amazed me that the townfolks had rebuilt it. I've never understood people who build on flood plains, either.
The highway. That was another memorable part of winter. Route 100 ran right up the middle of our valley. That's the major north-south highway through the center of the state, so it was a heavy tourist highway... and skiers in the winter. We lived at the north end of the valley, just before a sharp bend with a serious drop-off. We met a lot of skiers that way. Usually late at night, after they misjudged the bend and skidded off the road. Funny, nobody was ever hurt - just shook up. They'd come knocking on our door, we'd call the tow truck from Hancock, wrap 'em in blankets and feed 'em hot chocolate and whatever pies or cakes we had in the house until Ev Betis got there to haul them out of the ditch.
Sometimes I think that we have lost that spirit of neighborliness in this era of extreme paranoia, and then we have a snowstorm, and I know I'm home.
Now I live in Rutland, the second largest city in the state (which isn't saying much - the population's around 19,000). We live in an old converted house; one apartment downstairs (ours), two upstairs. We share a driveway with the apartment house uphill from us. Theoretically, there's a guy who's supposed to plow the driveway and parking lot out back. He seems to think that it's only necessary to plow the driveway and straight to the back - one pass, no parking spaces cleared.
Well, on Valentine's day, we had this nice steady snow all day. When it hit about a foot, I went out and shoveled a path from our door to my car. One of the neighbors was shoveling their side out. Then I got carried away and shoveled out all three parking spots on our side and moved my car closer to the house. The plow guy was nowhere to be seen all day. My sister, gods bless her, had a huge cup of hot chocolate waiting when I got inside. With whipped cream, even.
Around midnight, we heard a plow in the driveway. By now we had two feet of snow, and this guy had a fight on his hands. He'd back up ten feet, get a running start, and maybe push the snow pile another foot before he'd run out of oomph. Our driveway's about thirty feet - but he made it. Once he hit the back lot, it wasn't bad because the wind had kept it pretty shallow. Then we realized that another one of the guys living next door was out there shoveling out cars, and the plow was actually clearing the lot! I bundled up and went out, shoveled out our step and talked to the guy shoveling - the guy running the plow was a buddy of his who was plowing us out so his friend could get to work - just out of the kindness of his heart. When they started digging MY car out, I got my keys and moved it for them while Lynne made THEM hot chocolate.
They cleared our entire lot and driveway, not because they had to or were being paid to, but because they are a pair of genuinely nice guys. They even called me "Ma'am". Wow. Polite, too.
We didn't go anywhere that day, even after I'd shoveled out midday. We only have the one car, and I don't trust other drivers in bad weather. I know I can drive in snow - I learned how to drive in this state. One of the things we did, when we were learning to drive, was find a good, big empty parking lot after a snowstorm. Then we'd go and purposefully put the car into skids in the snow, so we could practice getting them out again. It's all fine and wonderful to read the directions in the driver's manual about how to do it, it's another thing to practice it so it's automatic. You don't have time in a skid to think - your reactions had better be the right ones. I remember my first winter with a front-wheel drive car (yes, kiddies, I learned to drive when most everything was rear-wheel drive). I took it to a snow-filled lot after the first storm of the season, and ran through the whole skid-recover routine to learn the difference.
I've never gotten into a skid I couldn't get out of. I'm rather proud of that. I get a kick out of it when someone's riding with me for the first time and I fishtail into our driveway - I do it on purpose, 'cause it's the best way on snow to line the car up with the driveway. Usually freaks my passengers out, though. Unless I'm kind and warn them.
This storm has been kind of fun. The last couple of years the winters have sucked, thanks to global warming. Brown Christmases, ski areas not even opening until January, the whole shit. Granted, it's made for cheaper heating bills, but when a heavy chunk of the state's economy rests on the ski industry, snowless winters are a bad thing.
But today we're buried in snow. The world is clean, the ski areas are dancing for joy, and the kids are having a blast. Actually, my sum total reaction to the huge pile of snow in the middle of the Wal-Mart parking lot was "I wish I was ten! I would so be climbing that right now!"
Maybe I'll just have to sneak down there in the middle of the night and forget that I'm fifty-one for awhile.